Here’s To My Fellow Homeschool Alumni: Ruth’s Story

Here’s To My Fellow Homeschool Alumni: Ruth’s Story

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Ruth” is a pseudonym.

"Here's to my peers, you fellow homeschool alumni (and wow, does it ever feel good to be connected)."
“Here’s to my peers, you fellow homeschool alumni (and wow, does it ever feel good to be connected).”

This is my own consumer review of homeschooling. I want to share my story simply and directly, so you can understand the results, both the intended results and the side-effects (as someone put it). I was homeschooled all my life until I graduated from high school. So was my older sister and four of my ten younger siblings. The youngest six are still being home schooled.

So first the intended results: I was raised to get A’s. An A practically stood for Acceptable and anything less was handed back for corrections. Because of this rigorous focus on excellence, I am very strong academically. I graduated college with a 3.87 GPA, was inducted into two honor societies and received several other awards.

I’m smart. OK. I’m smart, and I’ve proved it.

Now let me tell you about the side-effects.

At age ten, I moved with my family to a rural area in a new state. From age ten to age twenty, I had no friends. I went to church on Sunday and to piano lessons every other week. My mom was so busy having and caring for my younger siblings that my high school courses consisted of me by myself plowing through one textbook after another. My mom was frequently unhappy with the amount of time I spent on my school work because she needed me to help with my siblings. I was free childcare, and while I loved my family (they were all the life I had), I completely missed out on any experiences that would have allowed me to develop my own identity as an individual or develop any independence from my parents.

When my older sister left for college, I was devastated. I didn’t know how to live without a big sister. We had hardly ever been separated, and I didn’t know anything about how to maintain a relationship with someone long distance or during times of separation.

When I graduated from high school two years later, I was completely at a loss. Since losing my older sister had been such a blow, I was sure I would die if I left the rest of my family, and I was terribly confused as to why my parents suddenly expected me to go to school after sheltering me so carefully all my life. I had never thought seriously about a job or a career because home and family life had always been so glorified, and besides, it was all I knew. I had often been told that I was going to be just like my mother when I grew up (twelve kids and all). So there I was, clueless, clutching very hard at whatever was left of the life I had known.

The years I was eighteen and nineteen are very dim in my memory. I helped my mother care for my younger siblings. I practiced organ three days a week at a local church. I went on homeschooling myself rather secretively.

When I was twenty, my dad told me I needed to get a job. I got a job in a fast food restaurant and was very blessed because my boss was a young woman three years older than me, and I immediately adopted her as my new big sister. She patiently, patiently, patiently loved and supported me as I adjusted to the big, wide world of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. It was her love, care, courage, ambition and confidence in me that made it possible for me to finally leave home at age twenty-five and attend college several states away. I graduated four years later, and while my college years were incredibly healing (I got to go to counseling regularly for two years and dealt with a lot of anxiety issues, and I was able to cut ties with my parents and become fully self-supporting with my own independent life), there were many, many times when I would have traded some of my academic success for some social skills.

In my life today, I honestly have to say that I am extremely lonely because I still don’t know very much about making friends. I still feel very confused about my age because I am a blend of the neglected child whose needs were set aside for her family or crowded out by the needs of her many siblings and the old (almost grandmotherly) me who knows way too much about childcare and has changed more diapers than many parents. I still feel less than other people because I still hardly know who I am as an individual, and I still find it difficult to realize that I am an adult now with a job, a career to tend to and money to earn and manage. I’m still in shock at my big, wide world, and I’ve been quite depressed for the last few months because I find myself so paralyzed, overwhelmed and confused as I confront it.

So here’s to my peers, you fellow homeschool alumni (and wow, does it ever feel good to be connected). If hearing my story can make even one of you feel less alone, less frustrated, or less like a freak than I’m glad that I shared it.

And to those who want to know how homeschooling can be improved:

1. Parents, please take into account a child’s age and level of development and don’t put more responsibility on her than is appropriate (either too much responsibility for her own education or too much responsibility for contributing to her home and family). And please, please don’t push parenting responsibilities off onto older siblings. They aren’t ready to be parents and being forced into that role deprives them of energy they desperately need to do their own growing up with, and it deprives younger children of the quality parenting that only adults can give.

2. Parents, please remember that each child is an individual person and a future adult, not just a member of your family. Too much isolation is not healthy, and a lack of friends and peers to share and compare experiences with deprives a child of validation, identity-building experiences and knowledge of social roles which are all extremely important to a satisfying adult life. Too little independence is not healthy. The process of becoming independent takes time  (in reality, it starts at birth and is what all the growing-up years are about) and while you can certainly hinder this process and make your child’s normal development one hundred times more difficult than it has to be, you cannot stop her from growing up, so let go. Support her need for independence, and let go some more.

I Was Trained to Torture Myself: Grace’s Story, Part Four

I Was Trained to Torture Myself: Grace’s Story, Part Four

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Grace” is a pseudonym.


In this seriesPart One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four


Trigger warnings: sexual abuse; incest.

April 15

I was sexually abused. At the age of 11. And then again at 14.

"She didn't believe me. She said I was making it up."
“She didn’t believe me. She said I was making it up.”

The first time around, I didn’t really know what to do about it. It took me months to confide in my best friend, who was like an older sister to me. When I told her what had happened to me, she was horrified. She suggested I tell my parents, because they needed to know. I was scared, but because I truly valued her opinion, I took the risk, and told them.

They freaked out, and then talked to the parents of the kid who did it, because he was a minor. No one got the police involved. In fact, I don’t know that the police have ever been involved in any crimes that happened to any family members, unless an outsider decided to take it upon themselves to intervene. I felt that somehow the abuse was my fault. Not because anyone told me that it was, but because I wasn’t really told differently, and because of the level of stress my parents seemed to be under upon hearing the news.

I was never given the opportunity to get counseling.

I wasn’t even told what sex was until I was 14, and by then I already knew.

If you think that is bad, I’ll tell you what happened the second time. My brother would come into my room at night, and try to touch me, when I was sleeping. He also tried to place mirrors in strategic places so he could watch while I changed my clothes, or took a bath, or went to the bathroom. I became accustomed to having to close curtains, check everywhere for mirrors, and wedge a towel under the door for fear of being seen. When I first told my mother, she didn’t believe me. She said I was making it up.

So here I was, on the defense daily, sleeping wedged between my mattress and the wall on the top bunk. I think this must have been when my insomnia started. I didn’t want to go to sleep, for fear of being molested in my sleep. To this day, I have a hard time sleeping until the house is quiet, and everyone else is in bed. I’ll tell you one thing, if you want to kill your child from the inside out, tell them you don’t believe them when they say they are being sexually abused. There is not a higher level of “I don’t care about you” unless you stomp on their head, and even then it might be easier for them to recover.

Finally, I found a mirror inside my room, and told my mom to come look at it. She was shocked. So then she finally believed me. My dad put a lock on the inside of my door and yelled at my brother for a while, and that was it.

Again, no authorities. No counseling. They didn’t try to get him any help, either.

Finally, when he was 19 years old, he sexually assaulted my disabled sister, who had to go to the hospital because of it, and somehow, the police were called. My parents didn’t call them. I don’t know who did. But I am eternally grateful to them.

My brother is still in prison. I don’t believe that he is a horrible person, or a child molester. I think he is the product of a messed up marriage, being abused himself, and sexual repression. My mom thought that because sexuality was rampant in her day, that isolating us from information on sexuality was the way to go. So far none of her children have been virgins before getting married. My dad and his pornography addiction were the predominant exposure to any kind of sexuality to my brothers and sisters and me. As far as dating, my parents believe in courtship. None of their kids have really done a courtship. I think one sister did, but it was short, and the guy was an alcoholic, trying to fix himself by jumping into ministry at a church.

But we are all becoming well-adjusted adults, after years of counseling, and a lot of soul-searching.

Unfortunately, debate and other high school classes don’t look that great on resumes. I am the only child in my family who has had more than a year of college. My disabled sister, who is an adult now, is still living with my parents. My mom told me once that she would live with them for the rest of her life. I questioned it, because my parents will probably not outlive her. So maybe she’ll live with them for the rest of their lives… and then she can live with me.


To be continued.

I Was Trained to Torture Myself: Grace’s Story, Part Three

I Was Trained to Torture Myself: Grace’s Story, Part Three

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Grace” is a pseudonym.


In this seriesPart One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four


April 4

"I don't think she ever realized that I just wanted to have my own voice, and be heard."
“I don’t think she ever realized that I just wanted to have my own voice, and be heard.”

I had a conversation with my mom today. The HA group came up. I was, of course, very careful about how I worded things. She is still very much a homeschooling giant, if there is such a thing. She was one of the homeschooling “pioneers” although she laughed today when I told her the name of the group, stating, “Not that long ago everyone in the country was taught at home.”

I’m always careful when I talk to my mother. I can’t tell her that I smoke. She knows that I have in the past, but I never told her I started up again. She’s never seen me smoking.

Today, I was standing on the porch talking to her on the phone while smoking a cigarette. Ironically, after asking her questions about what it was like growing up in the 1960’s, when she was a teenager, she told me about “smoke alley,” at her high school. That was what they called the area beyond the sports fields, where all the smokers would hang out. I asked her if there was a legal smoking age at that time. She said there was, and that likely the students procured their cigarettes from an older sibling, stepdad, or other kids at school.

She told me that there was a radical change in the ‘culture’ from that of the 1950’s. She remembered families spending time together for holidays, girls wearing dresses to school, and “never showing any skin,” in the 50’s. “Then the 60’s came along, and it all went to pot.”

She laughed, then added, “Literally!”

She went on to talk about how when she went to college, she managed to stick to the straight and narrow, even though her classmates went a little overboard with partying. “There was this rebellion…” and kids were drinking, smoking, doing drugs, and the whole Woodstock thing. She thought that a great deal of it was fueled by the controversy over the war in Vietnam, and that the response of the people was “we’re not going to be told what to do,” and she also said that there were similar feelings of unrest that were an underlying cause of some of the rioting that went on during that time.

I told her I was interested to know why the homeschooling movement seemed to pick up and become popular around the 80’s and 90’s, and she agreed that it may have been a reaction by parents to what they had experienced in their school years.

I found all of this fascinating.

My mother is fascinating.

I used to be able to confide in her. I would tell her everything. But as I got older, her thinking what I said was cute, and then telling her friends about it got old, fast. So I’m careful what I talk to her about. I am much more open with people my own age. I think it’s something I learned as a child. Parents, people in authority, and people older than me were not to be trusted, because they could bring a world of hurt crashing down on you should they so choose.

I was careful to point out to my mom that I did not think homeschooling was bad, or wrong, only that some people had been in abusive environments, and were sharing their stories, and supporting each other and healing. I’m also careful how I talk to my mom because she was abused for so many years. First by her parents, then her husband, my dad. So she is used to being attacked. I think she expects to be attacked. Now that I am older, I don’t think she minds as much as she used to when I disagree with her, although it’s mostly trivial things, I haven’t tried to bring any of the big things up with her.

I’ll get to more of what those big things are later.

I remember when I was 12 years old my mom throwing her hands up, exasperated, saying, “If I said the sky was blue, you’d say the sky was green!” Which was stupid, because the sky was blue. And funny, because I’ve seen tornado skies, and they are most definitely green. But I don’t think she ever realized that I just wanted to have my own voice, and be heard. I was becoming my own person, from a very young age. And she didn’t know how to handle that.

I think that when the last kid moves out of her house, she will have no idea of what to do with herself. And she is already trying to ensure that she never has to face that, by keeping my youngest sister forever…


To be continued.

I Was Trained to Torture Myself: Grace’s Story, Part Two

I Was Trained to Torture Myself: Grace’s Story, Part Two

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Grace” is a pseudonym


In this seriesPart One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four


January 25

I’m finding that my story is more about my parents, and their relationship with each other, which is now falling apart, than it is about homeschooling or religion. Everything I learned about the world was from them. That knowledge motivates me to be a better parent to my babies.

I am trying to make my life more organized and manageable, and ask for help when I need it. I had been really good about not isolating myself and shutting down, but I did shut down last week and it got bad fast. I found myself staring at [my husband’s] rifle thinking it was an easy way out.

Usually I recognize the depression symptoms before that point and catch myself.

I hope that sharing this might help you to not feel so alone, because I bet you can identify in some way.


February 17

I’m going to talk about the depression and anxiety with which I struggle. This is going to be mostly about my life now, maybe not so much about when I was younger.

I have felt a tangible darkness in my life almost as far back as I can remember. And I think the anxiety started more around my teens. When I was younger depression took the form of guilt, and not measuring up. I remember learning about God in the earliest stage of my life. At 5 years old I felt the weight of my sin like a burden (remember Pilgrim’s Progress? Did your family have that book?) and gave my life to Jesus because I felt the need to be forgiven.

When I think about it now, it is amazing that I have continued to follow God, because that first conversion was very much out of a fear (afraid, not respect) of God and his wrath because of what my parents taught me. I have always been extremely sensitive, caring, and aware of others’ feelings, whether in general or their feelings towards me. I believe it is a gift, but it also has its challenges.

So here I was, 5 years old, feeling the need to be saved from myself because I believed that I was very evil. I’m not sure when the voices started, but I did hear voices as a child. I’m not talking about negative self-talk, which did happen later in life. I’m not talking about a still small voice that is supposed to be God. I heard narration in my head of what I was doing. My mind was tortured.

I believe it stemmed from witnessing and experiencing the violence my father dished out. I was “disciplined” by being spanked with a wooden paddle, which was bigger than my dad’s hand, and his hands aren’t small.

I learned later that he made the paddle himself. It sickens me to think about it.

I really do forgive my parents for the things they did, because I think they were doing the best they knew how, and even when my dad got a little nuts and hit us or threw us around, which was totally wrong, you simply cannot live a healthy life without forgiveness.

So as a result of being abused, which to me was not as hard to deal with as the trauma of watching my dad hurt my siblings or my mom, and seeing what I saw, I think my child-brain dissociated, and the part that distanced itself decided it was safer to tell the story so that perhaps there would be a happy ending.

This is all speculation.

Another theory about this is that I wanted to be able to blame myself for my father’s outbursts, because if it was something I had done wrong, I had control over that, I could fix that.

So I became a perfectionist and a control freak.


February 20

Anxiety has been a part of my life in a big way since I was 12. I walked in on my dad looking at a picture of a naked woman on the computer. I confronted him about it, and he said he didn’t want Mom to know. I waited until he fell asleep on the couch, and with my heart pounding out of my chest, snuck out of the house, over the backyard fence, and slept in my neighbor’s backyard until 5 am when my friend’s mom woke up. Then I scared her half to death by knocking on the window. She invited me in, and let me sleep on their couch until morning.

My dad came over, looking for me, and then took me out to breakfast. We talked about other things, and he finally said that he had told mom about what happened.

The thing was, it took me years, more than a decade, to realize the damage done by witnessing that one event. The anxiety and anorexia started at the same time. I became afraid of gaining weight, because in my young mind, that was the only thing I could see that was wrong with my mom, that she was slightly overweight, and not happy about it. I somehow equated my dad mentally cheating with my mom’s so-called imperfection.

My mom even remembers that all through my teens, I was never hungry. I didn’t even become aware of my eating disorder until I was in my 20s and didn’t gain enough weight with my pregnancies, and lost weight after I gave birth. At one point I was 111 pounds, and I’m just over 5’6′.

Counseling, years of counseling, has brought up all these issues, and I have been able to work through many of them and continue growing and maturing. There is much pain in my heart, but pain is what helps people grow.

So back to my story.

I was anxious, fearful, and never hungry. I was afraid, no, convinced, that a man would leave me, whether emotionally, sexually, or just plain get up and walk out the door, if I was fat. The thing is, my mom has never been obese. I never thought she was overweight. My mother is beautiful. Her eyes and smile are radiant. And she’s curvy, in a good way. I never saw anything wrong with her. But she was unhappy about her weight, and I picked up on that. So I thought it must be really easy to gain weight. I thought maybe I wouldn’t even know when I was fat. So I didn’t eat very much.

When I did eat a lot, I felt guilty, like I was doing something wrong. I’m not even talking eating a lot. To me, a lot is like what normal people consider a regular portion of food. This fear of being left eventually drove me to losing my virginity before I was really ready for it, to practically manipulating my ex-husband to marry me after we slept together for the first time, before we were married.

A lot of these situations were also exacerbated by my fear and religious zeal. I was so worried about trying to obey God so that I wouldn’t be in trouble, I tried to fix any mistake, and would many times mentally beat myself up because I had made what I considered the wrong decision, whether I had the information to be able to make a better decision or not.

I was mean. I was harsh. I hated myself, and hated on myself.

Negative self-talk was a way of life. Sometimes I joke about this being from the “Catholic” side of the family, because of the idea of penance, or atoning for your own sins. But Jesus… the whole reason he died was supposed to be to save us from these sins we’re trying to make up for.

My eyes are tearing up as I write this. So much wasted time spent trying to make things right that were already covered by God’s grace. Imperfection. God loves it. He loves us. It took me so long to know this, to experience this.

I had heard it many times but it meant nothing because my parents modeled self-hatred. I think this is the core of what tortures many of us: our parents’ modeling of behaviors.

It would be impossible had I not already been sharing it all along, in bits and pieces, with friends, and hurting people who needed to hear it. I so appreciate the opportunity to reach people on a broader scale. Connection is the heart of existence, I think.


February 26

There are plenty of times when I want to just have it out with people, but experience (being the scapegoat, especially having my dad yell at me, which I still have nightmares about on a regular basis) has taught me that:

1. Nobody likes being yelled at, and

2. The people who have made the biggest impact on my life are the ones who always assume the best of people.

I want to be like the latter, because it will have a positive and comforting impact on the people around me, and shows the love of Jesus. I will, however, attack religious zealots with great fervor. See Jesus v. Animal Sellers at Temple.


February 27

More about depression and anxiety. From January until April, my depression is hardcore. I had a miscarriage in late March, another in early April (different years), right after my grandfather died.

When I was 11 I was molested (in January), and again in April.

My sister was sexually assaulted in April when she was young, and was hospitalized as a result.

February is my birthday, Valentine’s Day, and the anniversary of my ex and my marriage. January was when I left my ex, and also when he took the kids from me and wouldn’t give them back.

One year I tried to commit suicide in April.

March I was served with divorce papers.

April he had his first supervised visitation and I started smoking.

The list goes on… These are definitely not in chronological order. But you get the idea. So, left unchecked, my auto-pilot goes into self-destruct mode during those months. It’s not too bad the first couple months of the year, and I can get through it alright, but once the end of March rolls around, I am a dead woman walking. It’s a struggle to do anything productive. The rest of the year, the depression is much more easily manageable.

This hasn’t always been the case. It’s taken years of counseling to even realize I had depression.

I could describe some of the symptoms, but my parents had always called it laziness. I thought I was just stupid, lazy, a bad person, and not good at life. Even though it’s clear that mental illness runs in my family, ex. depression, anxiety, possible bi-polar, and a distant relative was institutionalized when I was a kid. I know relatives who have eating disorders, paranoia, OCD, and aggressive tendencies. But almost none have been evaluated or diagnosed. I think it’s more about the stigma, and not enough information being out there about these illnesses, than refusal of treatment.

I think there is a correlation between mental illness and homeschooling. Not that homeschooling creates or affects mental illness, but that those who suffer from mental illness tend towards the option of homeschooling their children. When people with social disorders who have a hard time getting along with others are deciding on school options for their children, they may have the idea that their child may suffer from the same anxiety when around other children that they did when they were kids. I think unfortunately they may only think about this subconsciously, and not think about it as possibly a challenge to be overcome, but rather something to be avoided.

So we see a lot of socially awkward parents, isolating their children, homeschooling them, and the children may or may not be socially awkward, and whether this is a genetic disorder that is passed on, or simply something the children learn from their parents is something else to figure out.

I think another sad reality of people who choose homeschooling is that some use it as a way to hide abuse in their home. They are already paranoid about the authorities, especially in homeschooling-hostile states, and don’t realize how damaging, illegal, and cyclic abuse is. They also seem to believe they are above the law.

It really is like a separate religion.

And then when you have crazy cult leaders like Bill Gothard and make your children wear jean jumpers to the floor and dear God no shorts or tank tops!

It just makes the whole bunch look like nutcases.

So don’t drink the koolaid. Homeschooling is not evil, as I used to say, and neither is communism, and in a perfect world, they would work.

But this world is imperfect.


To be continued.

Thoughts on Healing

By Sage Sullivan, former HA Community Coordinator

What does losing your mind feel like?

In a word, awful. It can manifest itself in many ways. Anxiety, depression, nausea, anger, maniacal activity, constant illness, PTSD, you name it. Sometimes it can be just one of these things. Sometimes it can be many.

But ultimately, the feeling is that you are without control. You might feel led to do things you wouldn’t normally do. You may have abstained from alcohol and suddenly find yourself worrying about being an alcoholic. You may have been adamantly against smoking and find yourself smoking at least a pack a day. You may have been rail thin and now you’re struggling with weight problems. No matter how you cope, you find you just can’t manage to get things back under control. None of these activities are inherently bad, but you are driven to excess in an attempt to fill a new void.

Whether it’s depression, anxiety, anger, or something you’re experiencing, these are unfortunately completely natural feelings. I’ve experienced a number of them myself as have many other people who have suffered through religious abuse. Even if these feelings are normal, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything about them. With therapy (and medication in some instances), these feelings will begin to go away.

You will once again find yourself in control of your life and find something to fill that void.

You may be thinking right now about why there’s even a void in the first place. After all, you made the decision to depart that religiously oppressive upbringing for your own happiness. You shouldn’t be unhappy, right? Think about what you just did in doing that. In your mind, you’re a bird flying out of its cage. It’s truly a beautiful sight. However, in reality, you’re leaving behind a way of thinking and coping for something completely unknown. I’m not going to lie: breaking away at first is going to feel awful. You’re going to want to replace your way of coping with so many things to numb your feelings. It’s not an easy road, but it gets easier as you travel upon it. There is healing and happiness somewhere in the middle. As far as the eye can see after that, the road is rocky, but never quite the same as it is now.

You may have been taught otherwise but it’s a well-known fact that the activities of the mind and body are somehow connected. Constant stress compromises the mind’s ability to cope. Religious abuse is just one type of stress. Because of that fact, it’s rare for any of us to break free without experiencing some type of mental and emotional problems. After all, you’re not leaving because you’re happy with the way things are.

The good news is that we’re also learning more about the mind as time goes on. Activities such as therapy help repair some of that damage by helping us think about it differently. The brain is incredibly plastic and its ability to form new neuronal connections in unsurpassed by just about anything. Negative feelings can be turned into positive ones. Therapy is often necessary to do this. In some instances, medication will help quell some of the negative feelings so that therapy can be conducted more easily. In rarer instances, it’s actually necessary to keep things from getting worse. I fall into this last category.

I do not want you to think for a moment that you’re somehow defective or going against God’s will because you might need to take medication to help cope with some of the emotional problems you’re experiencing. Psychiatric medication is mostly just a “means” to an “end.” It doesn’t change who you are. It does help you figure out some things by constructing a sort of barrier against the negative emotions and helps them come in one at a time instead of flooding in all at once. A psychiatrist and therapist will work with you to see if you could benefit from this route and help you manage it.

You might feel a bit overwhelmed right now with all this information. You might feel that you want to be completely free all at once. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a gradual process, but it works. To me, this whole process is somewhat like learning to play the piano. You can choose to ignore the teacher and play all day, learning nothing. That’s the easy route, just banging around on the piano without direction. Or you can learn to play Chopsticks. You can learn to read the music and it opens new doors to you. You will probably never be a concert pianist, but I do think you’ll learn to play some beautiful Chopin, all on your own. 

Just don’t forget this important fact: if you don’t use it, you lose it. Keep practicing.

You can only get better, never worse.